The Utradata Takeover
The Ultradata Takeover
The Gulfstream 5 had only one other passenger on the 8 hour flight from Lausanne to Boston. Sanford Day, senior partner of White, Day, PLC, was finally asleep. Jag was thoroughly grateful for the silence after being drilled in the details of the Ultradata takeover. It was not going to be fair, kind or easy. He gathered Kaiser into his lap in the huge leather chair and stroked his silky white fur. It was a way to relax. The ocean was an impenetrable inky darkness with the glint of moonlight on rolling, good-sized seas. He fondled a snifter of fine cognac, but tonight it tasted like turpentine. Eventually, the little dog dozed off and so did he.
The midmorning drizzle was clearing at Logan Airport, and a harbor breeze brought the iodine salt tang of the harbor and seaweed at low tide. Jag turned before he entered the limo, paused and looked back at the plane. The tail was painted black with a gold pyramid logo. He tucked Kaiser under his arm and settled back into the limo. Sanford gave the driver the address of Ultradata in Cambridge. The limo rolled out of the private plane area of the airport and was immediately embedded in the Sumner Tunnel traffic. The short ride to Cambridge took nearly an hour.
Deliberately, Jason, CEO of Utradata, had no knowledge that Jag was arriving, although he was informed by minions of White, Day that an attorney would be arriving to review documents and petition for a seat on the Board. Reluctantly, Jason assembled the Board for an informal meeting with the new shareholder. They had asked him to step out for their deliberations an hour ago.
Jag walked through the front doors. He handed Kaiser to Elexi with instructions to walk the dog, and entered Jason’s office with Sanford Day at his heels. He strode up to the Boss’s desk and slammed his leather portfolio on the surface. He scowled.
“Good morning, I’m Jaeger Kunstler, the new CEO, and you are sitting in my chair.” He spoke slowly, with a slight German accent, and glowered at the Boss.
Jason was not easily flustered. He picked up the phone and called security. He glared back. “If you are Jesus K. Christ himself, which you are not, you are going to be thrown out in about a minute. Now who the hell are you to make demands in my office?”
Jag moved quickly around the side of the desk, towered over the Boss, pulled the phone out of his grip and slammed it down. “Those are my security people now. Glad you called them. Mr. Day, serve him.”
“Jason Story, you are hereby terminated from Ultradata, by action of the new majority shareholder, Mr. Jaeger Kunstler, as ratified by the Board. Here is the SEC filing, the State filing and the judge’s order.”
The Boss was strangling on his reply when the security guards came in. “Sorry, Boss. We have to escort you out.” They stationed themselves on either side of his chair and gave him an opportunity to get up of his own accord. When he did not, they each placed a hand on his arm and elbow and bodily brought him to his feet.
Jag stopped them. “Your security card, office keys and the keys to your company car, if you please.” Jason threw them on the floor and stomped out, boiling mad, red in the face and screaming. “YOU BASTARD, YOU WILL PAY FOR THIS! THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!”
“So it is,” said Jag quietly, “so it is.”
The Party of the Ultradata Takeover
“You are called Elexi? Unusual name. I am Jaeger Kunstler. Kaiser is my doggie. Thank you for walking him. I’m sorry if I was so rude this morning. Taking over a new company is never easy. I find it best to do it quickly.”
“Mr. Kunstler, forgive me for being blunt, but even an ogre like the Boss deserves better treatment than you gave him. That was more than just business. It was mean.”
“Ahh, Elexi, if you are always this blunt, we will get along quite well. If you will please take some notes, I would like you to arrange a parting payment for your old boss. You call it a golden parachute, yes? Make a recommendation. You suffered under him for several years, I understand. You will be reasonable but not too generous?”
“You…you want me to figure out his exit payment?”
“Yes, who better? I never met the man until this morning. I’m afraid it was not a good meeting.”
“That’s an understatement. Anything else for me?”
“I hope you don’t mind Kaiser. He is always with me.”
“He is a very cute little dog. I like dogs. I don’t mind walking him if you don’t mind my being out of the office.”
“I think we can make better use of your time in the future.”
Elexi nodded. “Is there more for me?”
“Well, as you know I’m not familiar with how things are done here. Perhaps you can help me put together a little party, you know, to introduce the new management to the local movers and shakers, and include some of our top people. I just purchased one of the nicer houses on Beacon Hill. I think it has a suitable space for a little get together.”
“Beacon Hill? Money alone can’t touch a place there. You have to be related to the Cabots and the Lodges, or your ancestors came over on the Mayflower.”
“Really. I just asked a good friend and it was mine. By the way, here is a partial guest list. Feel free to add to it.”
“Wow, the mayor, the governor, the Kennedys, Ned Johnson’s family, that’s some list.”
“Ned Johnson? Edward Johnson is my next door neighbor. The same man?”
“Our local mutual fund billionaire. Nice neighbor!”
“And I have heard so much about your AI, Aura. Perhaps you can arrange a meeting?”
“That would be just a perhaps. I’ll try.”
“Well, please invite her lab people - Dr. Advani, if I have the name correct – and his assistant. And see if you can get a celebrity or two to spice up an otherwise dull occasion.”
“Oh, Elexi, I hope you can be there.”
Elexi beamed. She was being invited to the party of the year! “You bet!”
“And bring a friend.”
Elexi’s face fell. Everything was great up to that point.
There was an air of celebration in the lab. A shaft of golden September sunlight beamed down from the skylight in the high domed ceiling. Deepak and Sara were fussing with Aura’s dress dummy while Aura watched from her other monitors.
“Where did you get articulated lips like those?”
“From a ventriloquist’s dummy. I had them fixed up to match Aura’s dress dummy.”
“And the artificial skin and the teeth? “
“I splurged. Let’s try it out. The control cable goes to this little motor in the chest.”
Sara connected the wires and Deepak turned a little knob on a handheld remote. Aura’s dress dummy grinned. He dialed it higher and she smiled demurely. A little more and she positively beamed. The effect was devastating. The flexible skin of her face melded with the articulated plastic parts perfectly.
“Let’s set up a mirror and let Aura play with it.”
“Aura, you’re connected.” Sara said.
“Thank you Sara, and it’s about time Deepak. Any reason you couldn’t put a little more articulation into this thing so I could really pout?”
“Aura, if you are not nice, we won’t take you to the party.”
“I’d eavesdrop anyway, cretin.”
Aura took hardly any time learning to manipulate her smile to the appropriate effect. She took a bit more time creating a codelet that more or less accurately reflected her mood. All the while she considered that she definitely had moods, and wondered if they were anything like human moods. The range of facial expressions at her command suddenly seemed quite inadequate.
Finally, it was the afternoon of the Jag’s party. Aura’s dress dummy and equipment were put in a van with Sara and Deepak for the move to Jag’s mansion.
The steep cobblestoned street ended in a cul-de-sac in front of a pair of large brick residences. A round port-cochere supported by ionic columns had been added, incongruously, to the front of the first residence, and a pair of liveried parking attendants
stood ready to find rare Beacon Hill parking spaces for the attendees. Of course, many had drivers and some had Government placards exempting them from the local parking ordinances.
The sliding triple doors to the front foyer were open. A marble floor stretched from the doors to a long, curving staircase. A black pennant with a gold pyramid hung from the balcony 20 feet above. Men in blue blazers and gray flannel pants stood in groups with women in long dresses and diaphanous scarfs. Mercedes, Rolls and Bentleys pulled up under the port-cochere and disembarked notables. The room filled with the quiet, somewhat restrained buzz of Boston’s finest. These were people who were skilled in innuendo and insider banter, not given to confrontation in a setting like this. Of course, there were no crass New Yorkers invited.
Aura’s dress dummy was installed to the left of the stairs, strategically at the focus of the curve. Wireless remotes connected her to her dummy. No one but Aura knew where else her other connections led. Sara, in a cream silk blouse with a navy jacket and skirt, was off with Elexi, trying to mingle but not really knowing how to get started in this kind of crowd. Deepak, in a new but ill-fitting blazer, had nowhere better to go than to dance attendance on Aura. Aura’s new violet floor-length gown hid her lack of feet and legs. She had some discrete pearls, earrings, and a professional hairdo. Elexi thought Aura looked like a Nieman Marcus advertisement. Deepak thought she looked like a goddess.
Deepak grabbed a martini from a waitress with a silver tray. He felt like he needed the drink, even though he did not drink. Juggling the stem of the martini glass in one hand, he snagged a few passing hors d’oeuvres, but he felt more like hors de combat. Aura was saying nothing, just looking around taking in the scene.
The sliding doors closed, the chandelier over the main floor dimmed slightly, and Jaeger Kunstler appeared at the top of the staircase. On his arm was an elegantly gorgeous woman in a white gown with a girdle and tail of delicate crystal. It did not detract from the fact that she showed a lot of flawless skin. And all of that merely set off Jag as he descended the stairs with his prize. The enchanting couple moved through the ensemble like the bride and groom at a royal wedding, never staying long with any one group.
Elexi appeared at Aura’s side and whispered, “She’s got to be rented. I know he’s not married and he got off the plane with only his lawyer.”
“Jealousy, jealousy, tsk tsk,” whispered Aura. To Deepak, she whispered, “It takes a real man to care for someone because of who she is, not what she looks like.”
“Aura, I think that is a left handed compliment to me. But it is true, I don’t see you as wires and circuit boards and code.”
Jaeger approached the group. “Aah, Aura, I have heard so much about you. I’m delighted we could find a way to have you here. Aura, Elexi, and Deepak, I think? Yes, Deepak. Please allow me to introduce Ana, my guest.”
Ana smiled, nodded, and they were off to the next group.
A head became visible near the sliding doors, well above the general level of the crowd. The head came closer and was resolved as a 6 foot 9 inch man with coffee skin and a soul patch. He was being towed by Sara. He loomed over Sara and Elexi as Sara made the introductions. “Aura, Deepak, Elexi, this is Grover Alex, star center of the Celtics. Grove, meet my co-worker Elexi, my boss Deepak and our AI, Aura.” Everyone mumbled “Hello, pleased to meet you.” into the region of Grove’s belly, except Aura.
The head turned, tilted up to face him and grinned. “Mr. Alex, how nice of you come over and say hello to little ole’ inorganic me. I’ve never met a celebrity.”
“Aura, you are a celebrity. You’re the only reason I let Sara talk me into joining this bunch of stiffs they call a party.”
“You know of me?”
“You betcha. I’m a shareholder in Ultradata. I’ve been reading about you. I looked up the Exaplex patents. I hear you’re nothing like these zombies.”
“Truer words were never said, and in so many ways. I’ve hardly gotten used to celebrities like you and now I have to get used to something else I’ve never had. Flattery.”
“Wow. Are you sure this babe is an AI, Deepak? You don’t have some famous actress behind the scenes making her talk?”
“Mr. Alex, Aura is Aura, this I tell you sure. She is her own person.”
“It’s just Grove, Deepak. No mister. Peeps only call me mister when I’m in trouble.”
“OK, Grove. Aura is back at Ultradata lab and controls this avatar through the wireless connection under here.” He lifted Aura’s skirt to reveal a black box with blinking LED’s.
“Woof, Deepak, don’t do that. Don’t spoil the illusion. She’s real to me.”
Without a smile now, Aura said, “It’s not nice to peek under a lady’s skirt Deepak. Go get another martini, please.” Deepak wandered off for his second drink.
When he came back bearing a half empty glass, Aura and Grove were still in conversation and Aura was smiling demurely. “You have an unusual way of tuning up for basketball.”
Grove lifted his huge hand up in front of Aura. “I can palm a basketball. These long fingers are the secret of my ball control. No matter what position I shoot from, I can flick the ball off my fingers. The piano playing is how I train.”
“What do you play?”
“Classical and jazz, mostly. A lot of jazz was originally written for someone who could spread an octave and a half, but it was rescored for ordinary sized hands. I got a guy looking up original scores like that.”
“Do you give concerts?” Of course, Aura could have looked up Grove’s concert performances in milliseconds, but that would kill the conversation.
“Only for benefits and charities and friends. Basketball is enough of a living. I don’t want to mess up my piano with making a living.”
“Wow.” Aura turned to Deepak, who was bobbing his head and holding his empty martini glass. “Deepak, why can’t you give me a decent body so I can have sex with this man?”
Deepak went from bobbing his head to wagging it back and forth, no, no, no.
“That’s my kind of girl,” said Grove, and he bent down and planted a kiss on Aura’s newly articulated plastic lips. Those lips smiled and relaxed, smiled and relaxed, smiled and relaxed, in spasms, over and over. Aura is broken. Grove says, “O my gawd, did I do that?” Sara shrieked. Elexi shook an inebriated Deepak, “Do something! Aura is broken!”
“I’ll go find our host. Sara, see if you can get some coffee into this guy, er, Deepak.”
“No! Mr. Alex, you go find Jaeger Kunstler.”
Elexi shakes Sara. “Sara, calm down. You have to keep your wits about you. This is Aura we’re talking about! You need to check her connections or whatever. I’m the useless one, let me find the coffee.”
Deepak sits on the floor behind Aura’s avatar and tries to follow the intricate cabling, but is too wasted to follow the wires to their connections. All the time he is mumbling in Sanskrit.
Jaeger follows an agitated Grove. “You say she just started repeating herself and then quit? I don’t know much about AI’s but that could be just a glitch.”
“Mr. Kunstler, I’ve kissed babes that broke down, but not exactly like that.”
Jag looked up into Grove’s face. “Mr. Alex, or should I call you Grover? You actually kissed a dress dummy?” Jag smirked.
“She damn well didn’t come across as any kind of dummy to me. Sure, call me Grove.”
“Every one calls me Jag, Grove. Sorry we have to meet this way. Aura is a significant asset of Ultradata. I assure you we will do everything we can to recover her commercial value.”
“Jag, I don’t care a fat fart in Philly about her commercial value. Aura is as real a person as you are, and a lot smarter, if I might say so. I don’t ‘xactly make the rounds kissing plaster pussy. You better get her back in good shape.”
Jag grinned at the ribald description of Aura. “Well, Grove, I hope you have a nice, warm woman to help you over your loss. I could see if Ana is available?”
“Son of a bitch! Just see to fixing Aura and I promise we will discuss plaster and Ana later.” They worked their way through the throng and found Sara still trying to chase wires and Elexi pouring black coffee into Deepak.
Jag stepped carefully across the nest of wiring behind Aura’s avatar. “Aah, Elexi, I see we have a little trouble here.” He stooped down. “You are Sara, I remember. Have you found the glitch yet?”
Sara answered from the tangle of cables, “It’s not a glitch, not here at any event. We need to get back to the lab. Elexi, can you get Deepak up and moving?”
Jag motioned and a black suit near the door approached. “ Please let my driver here take you back. I’m afraid I must attend to my guests now. I’ll come along when I can.”
Jag’s limousine whisked them to the lab and dropped them off.
The lab door was open. The door jamb showed the marks of a jimmy. Sara fingered the deep gouges in the wood. “Oh, oh. We got troubles!” She rushed into the lab and found the door to the locked compartment with Aura’s modules bent and open as well. There was a quantity of blue liquid on the floor. Elexi pushed the still mumbling Deepak into a lab chair and stared at the blue fluid. “Please tell me she just sprung a leak!”
Sara bent down and put a finger into the liquid. She smelled it and shook her head. She put the finger to the tip of her tongue and made a face. “Salty, bitter. Could be copper sulphate. It’s a powerful electrolyte and a poison to the biomatrix.”
Deepak came unsteadily out of his chair and leaned on the compartment door. Sara stepped aside. Deepak went in and looked at the rack with the biomatrix modules. They were obviously wet. He hung onto the rack and cried. “No glitch! No glitch, no glitch no glitch. Someone poured copper sulphate on her! Aura was murdered!”
He wagged his head from side to side in denial while tears streamed down his face, adding to the pool on the floor. Elexi hid her head in her hands and sobbed. Sara took a few deep breaths and held herself together. “Who could… Who would…Why would anyone do such a thing?”
As she turned away she saw a scrap of paper caught on the sharp edge of the broken cabinet door. She worked it loose and turned it over. It looked like a page from a book. It was written in Arabic.
Sara steered Deepak to a chair while Elexi brewed a strong batch of coffee. Deepak sputtered over the hot coffee but drank very little. He was drunk and unconsolable. In a few hours Deepak began to sober up. Together they tried various diagnostics, tried swapping out the pickled biomatrix boards for some in need of minor repairs, tried rebooting all the underlying layers of the system, but to no avail. As a computer, the system ran code, but there was no Aura in the machine.
Towards dawn, Jag arrived. His black tie was unraveled, his shirt wrinkled, he smelled strongly of Chanel perfume and champagne. He came over and sat on Deepak’s desk. Sara could see a dark shadow of beard and, perhaps a sad look in his eyes. “So, what is the status of our precious AI? You have been here all night, yes?”
“She is….gone,” Deepak managed, and followed it with a long sigh, then he hung his head.
“Aura was murdered!” Sara jumped up from the control console, red-eyed with exhaustion, and crammed a piece of paper into Jag’s tuxedo pocket. He pulled it out, squinted at it, put it down on the desk and ironed out the wrinkles with his hand. “Arabic?” he asked. “It looks like Arabic to me,” Sara said.
“Yes, it is Arabic. I grew up in a city that has many Arabic speakers,” Deepak mumbled. “It is a sura from the Quran.”
“Aura told me there was a, ah, a fatwa against her and Deepak and maybe Ultradata as well,” said Elexi.
“So, you had a conversation with her about fatwas?” said Jag.
“Aura was my friend. We talked a lot. She even introduced me to Zovo, ah er, her AI friend. There was a lot to Aura, nothing like those bland, cold AI’s that run banks and corporations.”
“Grove rousted me out of a very promising situation to get me back here this morning. I gather he was impressed by our Aura as well. Too bad I never got to know her. Remember, she was also our major asset. This could be a disaster for Ultradata, and certainly a blot on my security procedures. But are you sure she is not recoverable?”
“We have been trying to reboot her all night but all we get is programmed responses. Her recursion level boards were poisoned and we don’t have enough left to replace all of them. Maybe in a few more days…” Deepak was torn between mourning and hope. “Could you get us the funding to put a delivery premium on new boards so we can get her back to her full configuration?”
“I will see if there is enough in the treasury to do that, and I’ll also initiate an investigation. Elexi, get me a flight to Switzerland this evening and notify the local police. Have security file a police report and put this Arabic note in it.” Jag pushed himself off the desk and walked to the door, then he turned around as an after thought, “Please take care of my Kaiser for a few days until I return.”